On Yung Jake’s ‘USB,’ the Medium Beats the Message


Last week, the creators of peer-to-peer file sharing protocol BitTorrent announced BitTorrent Now, a direct-distribution music platform. It’s essentially just a repackaging of BitTorrent Bundle, which Thom Yorke and other artists have used since 2013. The platform offers fans either Spotify-style streaming monetized by ads, or a full paywall for an album download. Most of the artists on Now are only moderately known, and the appeal for them is the promise of much bigger cuts of profits than most other (bitter) platforms offer: Artists get 70 percent of the revenue from streaming ads and 90 percent of the money from paywall sales.

One of the most-hyped releases on this new platform is USB, the new album by net artist and rapper Yung Jake. Jake is known for his emoji mosaic portraits of celebrities and inventive videos for songs like “Both” (which had to be played on two iPhones simultaneously) that combine technology, hip-hop, and humor. But USB is a rarity for Yung Jake — a straight album that doesn’t immediately seem to have a larger concept at work.

Perhaps because of this, USB often leaves the listener with the feeling that something’s missing. The lack of an overall artistic concept forces Jake’s music to stand on its own, and it doesn’t always. He doesn’t seem to take his auto-tuned, sleepy verses on USB too seriously. (Many of the songs mention using Xanax recreationally, which may account for the mixtape’s leisurely pace.) Opener “Theme Song” sounds almost identical to Jake’s 2011 earworm “Datamosh,” whose lyrics hilariously described the song’s glitched-out video and satirized the digital-art world. Nothing here quite reaches those heights.

There are a few standout moments on USB, including “Wasted (Prod. The Code),” where Jake seems to exhibit authentic emotion around his medication-induced numbness, rapping in an infectious slow-fast flow, the words stumbling out of his mouth. “Pull Up” is a fun detour with a slightly more upbeat tempo, heavier percussion, a catchy refrain, and amusing wordplay (“I go Jon Hamm like a mad man/I’m just ballin’ on your ass like I’m Madden/I’m just rubbing on a lamp like Aladdin”), though it still doesn’t take advantage what makes Yung Jake special: his knowledge and command of the digital art world.

USB‘s style is most reminiscent of Atlanta rapper Father, who released the excellent album Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First? last year. But unlike Father, who makes intentionally tongue-in-cheek songs that nevertheless are packed with both humor and innovative ideas, Jake doesn’t seem to infuse his music with the creativity of his other work. Much of the album falls back on stereotypical rap tropes like sex and drugs, without seeming to push them to a new or interesting place, sonically or lyrically. Jake may consider himself equally a musician and a visual artist, but his rapping is more engaging when he uses both media.